“Show us the Way of compassion, the Way of joy and peace.”
“Show us the Way of life.”
Lost in the midst of such devastatingly bad news.
Shaking our heads in disbelief.
Cursing the stupidity of our neighbours.
Shrugging our shoulders despairing that much of anything can be done to stop the pain.
Clenching our fists in anger.
Or weeping, just weeping.
Children are dead.
War is raging.
Weapons are brandished, waved, fired, and clung to.
We are lost.
As the anger rose, seeking a way out of the rising despair I remembered the WISDOM of ancestors, who knew all too well the pain of weapons fired indiscriminately in their direction, inflicting wounds which even now resist healing.
I learned the Tale of the Two Wolves from an elder-woman of the Coast Salish people, who told us, a group of white students, that she learned this WISDOM from a settler, who learned it from her white mother, who learned it from a Cherokee. As Chief Sheila told it to me, it was a Grandmother who told her grandson about the tow wolves which struggled within her.
The evil, angry wolf, battling a good, compassionate wolf.
The battle which rages, over and over again in each of us.
Which wolf will win?
WISDOM insists that it is the wolf we feed that will win in us.
Today, in what have been described as “hot mess times,” the wolves struggling within me go by the names of despair and hope.
Despair and Hope struggling to win my allegiance.
Day after day.
Despair and Hope.
Which one shall win?
Let us look to the WISDOM of our ancestor Jesus, as it is recorded by the anonymous gospel-storyteller we know as Luke, reading from the First Nations Version:
“Healthy trees give good fruit and rotten trees give bad fruit.
Do grapes come from a thorn bush or figs from thistles?
The human heart is like a medicine pouch.
Good-hearted people speak from the good medicine sored in their hearts.
Bad-hearted people speak from the bad medicine stored in their hearts.
For the mouth will speak what the heart is filled with.
How is it that you call me “Great Chief” but do not walk in my ways?” (Luke 6:43-46)
My home is located in a new sub-division, built in 2000. Once the houses were built, the town planted young trees. By the time we moved in in 2006, the tree in our yard was already dying. Eventually, the town replaced it with a new young tree, which looked so fragile in the presence of all the other bigger, more developed trees on our street. I despaired of its chances of survival. The town left us with instructions about watering and fertilizing our little baby tree. I despaired of my ability to keep the young tree alive. But I dutifully watered and fed our spindly little tree, hoping against hope that it would survive.
About a month ago, the town removed all the trees from our street except for two. Only two trees were spared because they were the only two trees which weren’t Mountain Ash. Mountain Ash are being destroyed in an effort to stop a disease called fire blight The tree in our yard is one of those two trees. Not only has it survived, it is thriving. That tree continues to mature and now stands tall upon our street.We continue to feed and water it.
I know, I know, it’s just a tree and as evocative as a parable about dueling wolves may be, children are dying, and they will continue to die. Despair and Hope: how can we dare to hope. Show us the Way! Show us the Way! Show us the Way of compassion! I wish I knew the answers.But I will not insult your intelligence by offering you false hope.
Despair, deep paralyzing despair, is the only intelligent response to the plethora of tragic news which keeps hitting us in wave after wave. I feel very much like the tree in our front yard during last week’s windstorm. Battered and bent to the point of snapping. I’m angry and find myself cursing the perpetrators of violence. Not just the pitiful losers who perpetrate violence against the innocent with assault weapons, but the perpetrators of war in Ukraine, the perpetrators of violence against our beloved Earth, the corporate raiders perpetrating larceny, the racists, rapists and violent so-in-sos who perpetrate violence upon the weak just to make themselves feel better.
I could go on and on, but then I too become an ally of despair, feeding the raging wolf within me and in you.
“The human heart is like a medicine pouch.
Good-hearted people speak from the good medicine stored in their hearts.
Bad-hearted people speak from the bad medicine stored in their hearts.
For the mouth will speak what the heart is filled with.”
So, I stare longingly at tall, strong, steadfast trees determined to feed Hope struggling to survive in me. I’m told that each and every day, we modern, tuned in, connected, privileged North Americans are exposed to more bad news in a day than our parents had to cope with in a month. I’m not sure if this is true. I suspect that the truth is worse than that. I know it feels that way. It feels like a day brings more bad news than we would have been exposed to in a year, before technology became so adept at sending us bad news. The reality that bad news travels fast is now amplified by our own temptation to help spread it. Try as we might, we cannot control the volume of tragic news which surrounds us.
We cannot control what is happening in the world, but we can control how we respond to the news. For we are “Good-hearted people” and we do indeed have so much “good medicine stored up in our hearts.” We have blessings beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. When bad news reaches us, we are privileged enough to make a choice. We can feed the Wolf of Despair, or we can reach into our hearts which are filled with good medicine and we can feed the Wolf of Hope. I’m not talking about Polly-anna, pie-in-the-sky, wishy, washy, hope, the kind of hope which will make people want to smack you. I’m talking about the kind of Hope born when we begin to feed Hope, for Hope, real Hope, requires, no, demands action.
Action is the food necessary for Hope to thrive. Despair feeds upon in-action. When good people do nothing, Despair thrives.
I know, I know, Hope appears to be starving right now. Hope’s appetite for action is overwhelming. But if each one of us who is blessed with a morsel offers ourselves and acts, it will be like those potlucks in the before COVID days, when feasts of LOVE appeared out of nowhere. There is so very much we can do. It begins by not magnifying the bad news. Shaking our heads, tutting, complaining, moaning, groaning, pointing fingers, insisting that there is nothing we can do, is food for Despair, and that Wolf will eat us all. Hope hungers for us to dry our tears, rack our brains, figure things out, access our compassion, reach out, take risks, be prepared to fail sometimes, dust ourselves off, encourage one another, and work together to embody the LOVE our world hungers for.
Action feeds Hope. It is said that when things were particularly bleak and people were paralysed by despair Martin Luther insisted that: Even if he knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, he would still plant his apple tree. Now the despairing wolves among us would point out that there’s no proof that Martin Luther actually said this. But in these “hot mess times” I choose to feed the Wolf of Hope in, by insisting that I don’t much care whether Luther said it or not, for just like good old Martin Luther himself, “I choose to live my life as if it were true.” I choose to feed Hope.
So, I’m happy to tell you that the two lonely trees on my street will soon be joined by a street full of new, young, spindly, fragile trees, which our town assures us will grow strong if we feed and water them.
May everyone who meets you discover in you, a good-hearted person, who speaks a word of hope drawn from the plethora of good medicine stored in your hearts. Choose to feed hope. Feed hope with action. Gather together the morsels of WISDOM with which we have been blessed, through in a dash of your most treasured spice, summon up your compassion, and if you have to, through tear filled eyes, see your way clear, to action. Feed hope. Choose hope. Be hope.
 Jacqui Lewis
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